September 03, 2008 GMT
UKRAINE & EUROPE

13 August Volgograd - Donetsk 640 km

We enjoyed our stay in Volgograd and spending a bit of time with Roger, Gareth, Chris and Joanne, The Kiwi bunch. I think the hotel regards New Zealanders a bit like buses.... And then there were five all at once. They left a day earlier than us and we waved them goodbye.

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Volgograd is a city with thousands of years of history, from the Moghul Khan's to the attempted German invasion of 1942. In some way, there are similarities with Hiroshima, Both were turning points, and both cities were almost annihilated. The reminder of the tragedy being the flour mill where the German advance was halted.

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The museum and Hill called Mamayev Kurgan are quite startling for their portrayal of the destruction and loss of lives.

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(750,000 Germans and over 1 million Russians)

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(I felt a little disrespectful thinking that I could recognise the face on the soldier at the base of the Memorial, but he really does look like a young Arnold Scwartzineger.)

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Volgograd is still a Russian city, with nice central parts

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and the dilapidation that goes with lots of things built in the Soviet era. It was explained to us that the people felt that while the Party pretended to pay them wages, they in turn pretended to work.
However, there are some good restaurants and hotels that have been restored in the post communist era to something approaching Western standards. The food always tasted very fresh.
We have discovered that in hotels where breakfast is included, if you are planning an early departure, the hotel will make you up a take-away breakfast with yogurt, bread rolls, fruit juice and water.
We left early on Wednesday morning. I think the bike may have developed a sulk as it simply cut out in the middle of a large square by our Hotel and did not want to join the party. (Tyre skidding cutting out) For no obvious reason it started after being left alone for a while, but I was concerned that it was turning over without the slightest sign of life. Fortunately, its been fine all day.

The ride to the border was 423 km. There was nothing much in the way of a queue and we were dealt with quickly. The immigration people were fine, but we then experienced the most unpleasant Customs and Border guards we have ever encountered.
All our luggage was searched. This being a bit difficult with the maimed pannier needing first aid each time it is opened. We packed things back, were instructed to move forward about 20 yards, and the whole bloody lot was searched again. Why? It seems that the first Officer is looking for goods that you might have to pay tax on. The second (Completely nasty little man) was looking for the rifles and weapons . Natasha explained that we had a problem with the pannier, but no, it had to be opened. Did he look in? Did he buggery. Quite a slanging match developed,(I am not sure about what) but we made it out of Russia. Glad they didn't look through our coats !
Entry to Ukraine was by comparison a delight. It seemed they were impressed with the rather lengthy route we had taken to return to Ukraine. Some Russians who had taken pleasure in our struggle with luggage, (Oh it was 38C in the shade, but there was none) were given an appropriate reception by the Ukrainian officials. We were more or less simply waved through. Passports checked, but the luggage stayed put and unmolested.
We have travelled about another 250 km into Ukraine.
This eastern side is very industrialised, with coal mines all around. There is a place called Anthracite just back a bit.
Houses seem to be fresher than their Russian equivalents. Cottages are painted white with decorated windows. The roads are still poor, but many road signs are in Ukrainian and Latin script, which makes things a bit easier for me. I can usually manage the first two syllables of a Cyrillic name.
It has become very hot, 39 as we ride along and again its cooler to have the visor down as the hot air is very dehydrating. Lots of fields where the crops have been harvested were burning, everything is in a haze.

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Drivers still seem to be manic, but so far the loo's have been a whole world better than most Russian bogs.

14 August Donetsk to Cherkassy 569 km

What a difference an early start can make. We were into the shambles that is the route through the outskirts of Dnipropetrovsk, about 240 km from Donestk around 9.30am . Most of the total crap-head drivers are still sorting out their hangovers at this time, so the roads are slightly safer. Slightly.
Eventually we crossed the Dnieper river. One of the widest crossings we have encountered.
Our plan was to ride up the western bank of the Dnieper, which we achieved.
We passed the site in 1943 where soldiers of the Russian army crossed the Dnieper. Their choice was stark. Cross or be shot. The fact that many couldn't swim and they were carrying equipment or that there was a lack of any craft didn't matter. Interestingly, the sign is written in Ukrainian and English.
The roads were variable, but the lack of heavy traffic made it easier. The temperature back up to 38 didn't.
The coastal road is a very pleasant ride. One day there will even be signs at junctions.

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We went through Chigirin, the old capital of Ukraine with the monument to famous Ukrainian Getman Bogdan Khmelnitskiy (equivalent of the president in the 16th century).

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Cherkassy hasn't changed much . The centre of town has a bit of Flash about it, but away from the main street and its streets are turning into sand with run down housing and a reminder that prosperity hasn't reached far.

It is such a relief to know we have made it this far.
10326 km in Russia in 18 days of travelling. The utterly primitive life led by many Russians is strange. They all seem to have multiple mobile phones, but I still cannot understand their obsession with poetry and ballet without a sound infrastructure of plumbing. Perhaps the Bolshoi Ballet should be sponsored by Armitage Shanks.

Cherkassy
15-23 August

We enjoyed a 10 day rest, well, “rest” is probably overdoing it. We caught up with our Doctor friends, while staying in Natasha's flat. We have visited dachas, swum in the Dnieper and been eaten by mosquitoes.

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We also endured something of a heatwave, with daytime temperatures climbing to 39C. Dr Kovalenko allowed us to use the Smilemenders Izusu to visit rural central Ukraine. The primitive nature of the villages is sad, yet unlike our experiences in Russia, most homes seem to have indoor flushing toilets.
While Natasha attended to some lady-like pastimes involving salons, I was more being introduced to saloons. Each to their own. I also was a special guest at the Regional Stomatologial Polyclinic with a tour for the local news team.
Our departure from Cherkassy was at 7.30 am with Dr Kovalenko, local TV cameras and Misha from Hope-Now waving us on our way.

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The journey around Kiev was planned to traverse the Dnieper across the 8 km causeway from Cherkassy

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then back to the western side over the hydro dam at Kaniv.
Unfortunately the route to the west of Kiev is not straightforward, with a significant distance being travelled in an easterly direction. Having spent most of the last three months moving west, it was uncomfortable and counter-intuitive going the “wrong” way.
The weather was still hot, 35c as we rode at 120kph. By early afternoon wind had become quite a challenge and the sky was darkening. Having ridden around the Zhitomir by-pass, we found an “INTER” motel. It is clean fresh and better value than anything in Russia.
As we were unloading the bike, the rain started, buckets of it.

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It continued sporadically during the afternoon. We are glad to be watching it from behind double glazing. This was our last sunset in Ukraine.

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The roads in Ukraine, well on the E 40 have improved dramatically since my first journey here in 1999. The bypass was an undulating mass of heaving tarmac and potholes. Now it is billiard table smooth, and very few police cars. So far!


25th August Zhitomir to Rezchow 580 km

We know this bit of road quite well as we took aid to Ukraine many times. Each time we look forward to seeing this lovely monument. It is still there.

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Last filling of the bike with cheap Ukrainian petrol.

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Entry into Poland.

Well, we thought that Russian border personell were difficult. Then we encountered Poland.
Almost 3 hours of waiting once we had left Ukraine.
There we were treated as heroes, and escorted past a long queue of cars and directed to the head of the queue by a Ukrainian soldier.
We thought it was because the Poles seem to regard their role as guardians of the EU very seriously, but it seems that the Polish customs and Immigration are on a work to rule.
However it wasn't the waiting, so much as the attitude of one soldier on the border. Natasha is preparing a letter to the Polish ambassador.
The poor buggers waiting to get into Ukraine! The queue was just under 3 km of stationary lorries.

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Poland is not somewhere we want to visit for a while.
When we were in Cherkassy we met a Ukrainian lady who lives in Newcastle, ( I thought was a Geordie on holiday.) She had told us that it took over two hours for a bus to be cleared through.Having crossed many times I doubted her. Ah how things have changed!
But anyway, we are near Rezchow about 80 km from the Ukraine-Polish border. The drivers seem less intimidating than 9 years ago, certainly everyone seems to have shiny new cars.
We are in a small hotel on the side of the E40. Our plan is a slow plod through Poland into Germany where we need to find a new rear tyre.
The Metzler has done 14000 km over some of the worst roads anywhere. It is well scarred and I had hoped to nurse it home but its getting a bit scant in the tread.

Rezchow to Krakow 189 km

So the best laid plans... the E 40 in this part of Poland is a single carriageway. It probably has the greatest density of traffic we have seen for a while. Bumper to bumper and fairly slow. Probably a good thing, because the rear tyre is now thumping away. We spotted a bike shop near Krakow and hauled ourselves in. They were unable to help, but did have a contact in the centre of the town who could.
With an address dialed in to the Zumo, we simply crawled into town. A polish guy on an R1 came alongside, thumbs up etc. We explained we needed a tyre. Follow me.. It was the same place the Zumo was leading us to.
At last, a proper bike shop.
The staff were attentive and helpful.
Not only did they locate something suitable for the bike (Metzler's weren't available for two days, but a Bridgestone could be had for tomorrow.)
Next, they sat us down on their computer and helped us sort out accommodation. I think they would have tucked us in if they had time!
The Old Town of Krakow is delightful. Getting there is not, but we were in a taxi.

We enjoyed a stroll around

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and even found a concert to go to in the evening.
There was a lot going on. A place worth another visit.

27 August Krakow to Bautsen 500 km

The next day after phoning after 10 am (That's when most businesses open!!) we were assured that the tyre was being fitted as we spoke.
Another taxi ride and we were re-united with the bike. Complete with new and a bit expensive rear tyre. But the use of the internet had saved us 60 euros on the hotel bill. The bike even seemed to have been waashed, and they stored our gear, so all was ok.
I reecommend the services at Tommarg Motocykle - 012 252-84-80 - phone and ask for Machek (sounds like 'magic') [www.yamaha.krakow.pl]
We headed out of town and back onto the E40. The bike felt significantly better. Not only had the thumping gone, but the annoying sound like an overtightened chain was gone as well.
The Tourance EXP had survived the Zilov section. But its steel chords were visible through the splits in the tread. It did have an annoying noise on tarmac at certain speeds.

Shortly after Krakow the E40 becomes a toll road and proper motorway, with service areas and toilets and everything.
We covered 400 km very quickly. The last 80 km of so before the German border is fairly slow as its back to single carriageway. The border exists in terms of buildings only. Ah I remember the little room where I spend a worrying time 10 years ago when my passport was apparently not in order. Quite fun to whistle by.
We are in the small town of Bautsen. Its quite delightful.

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It's also nice to be back to somewhere that has a slight feeling of familiarity.

28 August Bautsen to Siegen and a bit of a bug.(588km)

So we were feeling like we were doing OK. We had a wander around Bautsen and enjoyed a couple of beers. There didn't seem any need to rush in the morning and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before checking e-mails and sorting out a ferry booking to the UK. Then an hour was wasted as the expensive wireless connection kept trashing any work without sending it. So onto the bike and onto the E 40.
Three months of sub 70 mph must have re-set my brain. The autobahn speeds seem positivey scarey. Why is it always black cars that seem to be driven by b*st*rds?
A short while into the ride and I had a feeling we were no longer looking like a Christmas tree in the lighting department.
It took less than an hour and four minutes to discover the headlight bulb had failed somehow causing a short circuit. It took a couple of fuses, and some fiddling, but we had some lights. There is still an intermittent fault, but it will need a bit of time and something on my bench at home to sort it properly. I am so glad we don't have the 1200GS with its oversensitive fancy wiring. No headlight means no ignition. BMW claim this is progress. Just what is needed on an RTW bike, a bit of technological overkill. NOT.
We have managed only 587 km. We are in Sigen about 380 miles short of Calais.
Colin and Dee are threatening to meet us at the ferry in Dover. It will be brilliant to see them. They at least understand some of the ... forget challenges, think problems, that we have battled our way through.
If we make it to Calais tomorrow, I think that we will be allowed a bottle of something from the fizzy wine section.

29 August Arrival in Calais 554km

So we are here, with neither a bang or a wimper. The GPS did work once it was on home territory. The E40 was navigated without a hitch. Finding a hotel wasn't quite as easy, but we are in another Holiday Inn, the same one that Stuart Arnold of Wesleyan Insurance showed me all that time ago when we went to Saarbrucken to buy a certain BMW 1150 GS Adventure.
It is certainly looking a bit tatty compared to then.
Natasha is busy attempting to suture the tank-bag zip back into place. The whole thing is tearing away. Its only one more journey to make and no more petrol fill-ups.
We are almost too tired to bother with a celebratory meal, but we might force ourselves.
The weather all day has been grey, cloudy and a bit miserable. Lets hope that tomorrow will be brighter.

30 August The run home 320 km.

It was quite foggy for the short ride to the ferry terminal. Once there we met a few other riders. They were a friendly bunch and we were congratulated on making it to there.
The day cleared and the Channel was pond-like. It was fantastic to see white cliffs of Dover!

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Our disembarkation was delayed by the P and O deck director who must have been exercising his power by keeping the bikes from leaving until most of the cars had left. We were right at the front as well!
Once onto the street, it was an utter delight to see Colin and Dee Masters waving a Union Jack! We had hugs and kisses, they presented us with a gold star each, and two for the bike. We rode together for the last bit to home.

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A very strange bundle of sensations, looking at familiar scenery and road signs. Miles take so much longer than kilometers.

We were lucky to have one of the rare warm days of the British summer for our last journey. Home at last.
Katya has looked after the place well, and there were fresh flowers everywhere. We fired up the barbeque and opened some champagne which we shared with Colin and Dee.

So thats it. We can now return to something like ordinary. It will be a joy to wash clothes in a machine and clean the bike thoroughly.


Posted by Brendon Ball at September 03, 2008 11:38 AM GMT
 
 

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